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Looming race carnival sees Victoria closing ranks

October 4, 2007

Victoria is stepping up efforts to remain free of equine flu as the lucrative spring racing carnival nears, said to be worth more than $A2 billion to the state economy.

Premier John Brumby has announced $A2.2 million in programmes to reinforce measures to help protect Victoria.

The package includes:

"The racing industry and the Spring Racing Carnival are important for Victoria and the rest of Australia, so it is important that government and industry do all that we can to guard against equine influenza coming to Victoria."

Victoria has secured enough vaccine to inoculate all Victorian horses in training for the carnival.

"Securing the vaccines does not mean we can let up on our vigilance and compliance. The risk of equine influenza hitting Victoria is still high. The Government and industry must keep up our efforts to ensure the spring carnival proceeds without being affected by equine influenza," he said.

"Victoria's recreational horse organisations have been extremely co-operative during the current outbreak, and have voluntarily cancelled all meetings to minimise the risks of spreading equine influenza," Mr Brumby said.

"This funding recognises the sacrifices these groups have made and guidelines for the grant programme will be developed in conjunction with the industry."

Meanwhile, in Sydney, the independent inquiry into the flu outbreak, headed by retired High Court judge Ian Callinan, got under way. It adjourned after the first day to provide more time for investigations and to gather further witness statements. It will reconvene on November 8.

Tony Meagher, counsel assisting the inquiry, said investigations were continuing into how the outbreak occurred. Mr Meagher said evidence would suggest some veterinarians and others attended to horses without wearing protective clothing or following decontamination procedures while the animals were under quarantine control.

The disease was first detected in a stallion which was being housed at the Eastern Creek quarantine facility after arriving from Japan, where authorities had been tackling a recent outbreak.

Mr Meagher said there were three possible scenarios for the spread. Either someone accompanying horses on the trip to Australia had previous contact with an infected horse or it was transmitted through contact with a person or mateials at Eastern Creek. The most unlikely scenario was airborne spread from Eastern Creek.

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